Western Australia will have the most progressive and flexible adoption system in the nation, under legislation presented to State Parliament.
Family and Community Development Minister Eric Ripper told the Legislative Assembly today that the Adoption Bill 1992 provided more openness and flexibility throughout the adoption process, while striking a workable balance between information access and privacy.
"Relinquishing parents in particular, have long awaited the lifting of the veil of adoption secrecy, which has caused much pain and suffering in the past," Mr Ripper said.
"This legislation acknowledges that people have a human right to access factual information about themselves and their family of origin, but without intruding into others' lives."
The Bill strongly endorsed the principle that adoption was a service for children and the paramount consideration, at all times, must be the welfare and best interests of the child.
"A key element of the new legislation is the requirement that an adoption plan be negotiated between future adoptive and birth parents, prior to placement of the child.
"The negotiated plans could range from no contact and no information exchange at all, through to regular contact, or somewhere in between, such as the yearly exchange of photographs and information at Christmas."
The Minister said adoption plans did not mean compulsory open adoptions, but provided a mechanism to allow parties to select from a wide range of options and to reach an agreement which best suited all concerned.
"An adoption information exchange, under the Department for Community Development, will be the central body which will enable people to officially register their opposition to any contact on a 'contact veto' register. Penalties will apply to breaches of the veto or the adoption plan."
Mr Ripper said people involved in existing adoptions would be given time to consider their options and to decide whether or not to register a veto against contact.
Other key elements of the landmark legislation included:
· The age difference between adoptees and their adoptive parents should be no more than 40 years. The existing legislation stipulated a maximum difference of 35 years for the first child, 40 for the second and a maximum age limit of 45 years.
· Relinquishing birth parents could not sign adoption consents until at least 28 days after the birth, and at least 28 days after receiving appropriate information and counselling.
· Couples not legally married, but who have lived as husband and wife on a bona fide domestic basis for a continuous period of three years could apply. The existing legislation required applicants to be legally married.
Mr Ripper said the Bill represented several years' work and exhaustive public consultation. It would replace the existing 94-year-old law and would affect the estimated one in 15 Western Australians touched by adoption in some way. More than 20,000 adoptions have happened in this State since the turn of the century with adoptions peaking between the mid-1960s and late '70s.
The adoption situation had changed greatly since then, with only 14 locally born children placed for adoption in this State in the last financial year.